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Documentary explores 200-year-old legislation protecting animals

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Published on 21 July 2022

Martin’s Act documentary
Martin’s Act documentary

The world’s first ever piece of animal protection legislation introduced 200 years ago on 22 July is to be marked as part of an international documentary by a north-east academic. The University of Sunderland’s Dr Alex Lockwood was commissioned to create the audio documentary, by the US-based Culture and Animals Foundation, examining the past present and future impact of Martin’s Act on its 200th anniversary.

In 1822 Parliament passed the first legislation protecting animals from deliberate acts of cruelty, the first law in the UK to protect animals and one of the earliest in the world. Known as Martin’s Act, after its sponsor, Richard Martin MP, it only protected a limited number of species from certain types of abuse, but was the first time legislation had been passed with the interests of animals. This act of Parliament was to the first of many animal anti-cruelty laws that would cement Britain’s reputation as one of the world leaders in animal welfare. Through interviews and essays, the Martin’s Act@200 documentary directed by Dr Lockwood, a renowned climate change activist and exponent of veganism, tells the story of Richard ‘Humanity Dick’ Martin MP, and the Act’s legacy over two centuries of animal advocacy.

The University Senior Lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing, says:

“This work is an invitation to imagine the next three decades of animal advocacy, and for communities around the world to consider what their demands might be, given the realities of the climate and biodiversity crises and the need to protect democracy, enhance resilience, and foster environmental justice.”

Dr Lockwood added: “It’s vitally important that any movement understands its history so that it can learn from the past and improve its effectiveness in the future. And it’s crucial to ask why there hasn’t been more done in the law for animals. Our aim is to inspire people to work with lawmakers, policymakers and politicians to improve the lives of all animals.” The Martin’s Act@200 documentary, produced by the Culture & Animals Foundation and its Chief Executive Martin Rowe, and directed by Dr Lockwood, and can be accessed via the website: https://chart2050.org/

The audio documentary will also be promoted at an event at the British Library in November.

The bicentenary anniversary of Martin’s Act is also being marked by leading animal advocates, scientists and lawyers exploring at the Global Animal Law Conference, online, looking at how the law can secure a better world for animals, what has been achieved, and strengthening current animal laws.

Who was Richard Martin MP?

The Member of Parliament who introduced the legislation was the MP for Galway.

Richard Martin bravely advocated for animals in Parliament, making a number of attempts to improve the lot of animals, as he attempted to prohibit bull baiting and dog fighting. As a result of his efforts, he endured ridicule from his peers, who thought animal protection unworthy a subject of Parliament’s attention.

Martin’s efforts did not stop at Parliament. He ensured the law didn’t sit on the statute books unused, by actually bringing the earliest prosecutions himself. He was also an instrumental figure in the foundation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the forerunner of the modern day, RSPCA.